It’s a Plot


I have discovered that a blogging is a dangerous activity. If you write about creating a cutting garden and post it up for everyone to look at then you must reap the consequences. Last month on this site I extolled the virtues of no-dig and my excitement with the theory that flower growing might be successful without the pain of forking over a 15m square patch of weedy earth. It obviously got Mike in the kitchen thinking because only the day after attending the Sussex Food and Drink Awards gala dinner he blocked my path as I was sidling through the kitchen on the way through to the bar. “I think,” he said, quite forcefully, and Mike is bigger than me “that we should be growing our own vegetables.”

So I smiled weakly, nodded faintly and went to sit at the bar where Jonny wordlessly handed me a double brandy. (Communication between nephew and aunt is of impressively psychic dimensions.)

When my hands stopped shaking I started to compile a list. In moments of high tension I like to pick up a pen and paper and doodle aimlessly while I think of something sensible to think. I will grow a select group of easy grow, easy pick vegetables. I will keep things simple, concentrate on the painless stuff. I will not grow carrots. Carrots are my bete noir – I have never been able to grow them even when they have ‘easy’ written on the seed packet alongside a little cartoon of a little carrot man with green hair which means that even a pre-school toddler could harvest a crop. Those seed packets lie. They are not easy. Carrots are needy little beasts. They need deep friable soil of a mythical crumbly consistency that exists in only three parishes in East Anglia. I have three inches of topsoil before I hit solid chalk. They have mortal enemies like carrot root fly that attack them as soon as you touch their fragrant leafy topknots. They have hissy fits if they get a sniff of even well rotted manure. I hate hate hate them for finding me out.

Courgettes, I write. I feel a little better with carrot failure out of my head. I grew a few of these for the pub at home last year. Easy to grow, easy to pick and, like many vegetables, so much tastier when they’ve only had a little walk from the soil bed to the chopping board. I will find the ones with the best flowers. French beans, runner beans – usually failsafe once I’ve dissuaded every slug in the parish from a feeding frenzy on the young plants. Perhaps some borlotti beans. I discount peas as I reckon that no-one in the kitchen will thank me for insisting they cook something that takes hours of podding. Peas, I have always felt, are best eaten standing by the vine dropping the discarded pods as you go. Then I remember sugar snap peas which you chomp, pod and all. On the list they go. Radishes, of course.

Tomatoes. There are tasty Russian varieties that do well in colder climates – if they are bred for the harsh winds of the Russian steppes then maybe, just maybe, they might cope with the extreme winds of south Milton Street. I will grow bush tomatoes and not those silly ones you have to pick out the side shoots from. Just what are side shoots anyway? Climbing onion squash are fun and are said to be easy but see above, carrots. That will do for the first year, I think.

But later at home there is the wicked lure of the seed catalogues. What am I thinking – lettuce! Three types of lettuce go into the basket, cucumber, chard, more tomatoes because these ones look really tasty should I grow parsnips? beetroot (really don’t like it but it’s purple and that’s cool) is a vegetable plot a vegetable plot without purple sprouting broccoli and apparently cima di rapa that is so much nicer sounding than turnip tops then there’s the edible flowers like marigold and borage…

So here I am in the Ox garden. My trusty wheelbarrow and I – the tool to which lately I am almost permanently joined at our mutual arms – are contemplating seven long beds piled high with what I will delicately call FYM in case you had a bit too much dung last blog post. The compost arrives by tipper truck this week. The sky is blue, I have just heard the first skylark of the year tirruping in the Ellis’ field to the east and there is just enough sun on my back to make my coat excitingly de trop.

But who is this striding down the garden? Mike, in his pristine whites and apron, coming to inspect the progress of his new kitchen garden. He nods politely at the beds, looks at the list I have given him of what I am going to plant and hands it back. I wait expectantly for praise.

‘Carrots?’ is all he says.